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Factory of the Revolution

Blair Worden: Quentin Skinner, 5 February 1998

Liberty before Liberalism 
by Quentin Skinner.
Cambridge, 137 pp., £19.99, November 1997, 0 521 63206 4
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... and utilitarians and, beyond them, to Hobbes. Its most illustrious modern exponent has been Isaiah Berlin, whose own Inaugural Lecture of 1958 examined Two Concepts of Liberty. Berlin (on Skinner’s reading) thought, like his predecessors, that ‘liberty’ is properly ‘negative’ liberty – that is, the ...

Memories of Brodsky

Anatoly Naiman: Akhmatova, Brodsky and Me, 13 May 1999

... added: ‘Don’t you find that Joseph is a typical cat-and-a-half?’ When he died, I called Isaiah Berlin and said I’d like to talk to him about Joseph, and especially to hear what he was like when he first arrived in the West. Isaiah said that he, too, wanted to talk with me, not about that, but about what he ...

Roth, Pinter, Berlin and Me

Christopher Tayler: Clive James, 11 March 2010

The Blaze of Obscurity: The TV Years 
by Clive James.
Picador, 325 pp., £17.99, October 2009, 978 0 330 45736 1
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... Piraeus, I walled in the whole area. My designs assumed the proportions of Karnak or Speer’s Berlin.’ That’s Unreliable Memoirs on boyhood games with mud, and James is joking. Somewhere along the line, though, the comparisons become routine. James mentions Robert Lowell accusing himself, when mad, of being Hitler, and launches into a riff on the fact ...

Delighted to See Himself

Stefan Collini: Maurice Bowra, 12 February 2009

Maurice Bowra: A Life 
by Leslie Mitchell.
Oxford, 385 pp., £25, February 2009, 978 0 19 929584 5
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... Greeks, though also studies of, and translations from, modern European poetry. But, as his friend Isaiah Berlin later wrote, ‘those who knew him solely through his published works can have no inkling of his genius.’ What Bowra did best was talk. ‘I hear you are the funniest man in the world,’ was the opening gambit of one visiting ...

Is It Glamorous?

David Simpson: Stefan Collini among the Intellectuals, 6 March 2008

Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain 
by Stefan Collini.
Oxford, 544 pp., £16.99, July 2005, 0 19 929105 5
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... the virtues of Absent Minds is that it spares us another extended account of the life and times of Isaiah Berlin – I would have put money on his place in this story, along with F.R. Leavis and C.P. Snow, who also feature sparsely. Many of the exemplary careers it does describe are full of surprises. The account of ‘Mr Facing-Both-Ways’ Eliot focuses ...

On Being Dealt the Anti-Semitic Card

Tom Paulin: Poem, 2 January 2003

... sprung (we mustn’t though be mastered by De Maistre who in his manner sees what’s wrong) as BerlinIsaiah – shows who dying called for fairness to all those – those Palestinians he never named them who suffered Nakba (catastrophe in 48) and still suffer it – the refugees it’s now their turn to have that ...

Making history

Neal Ascherson, 21 August 1980

The Oak and the Calf 
by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Collins Harvill, 568 pp., £8.95, July 1980, 0 06 014014 3
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... would move on into the breach.’ Solzhenitsyn’s approach reminds one of that Greek epigram Isaiah Berlin used to apply to the two strains of Russian political writing in the last century: ‘The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog one big thing.’ Solzhenitsyn was the hedgehog of his times: obsessional, intemperate, often cruelly unfair to ...


Robert Walshe: Bumping into Beckett, 7 November 1985

... that would have put André Malraux to shame. Gary was probably better in the talk department than Isaiah Berlin: the Carl Lewis, one might say, of talkers. One can admire Carl Lewis as an athlete, however, without being overcome by any great desire to run against him. On the other side of Montparnasse, the 14th to be precise, I had a habit of bumping ...


Richard Wollheim: On A.J. Ayer, 27 July 1989

... times now, Scruton has sanctimoniously assaulted a major thinker of our age – Michel Foucault, Isaiah Berlin, A.J. Ayer – in words that anyone of sensibility, friend, acquaintance, enemy, would have dropped down dead rather than see appear above his ...


Jenny Diski, 28 April 1994

Roald Dahl: A Biography 
by Jeremy Treglown.
Faber, 307 pp., £17.50, March 1994, 0 571 16573 7
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... artist of a high order, and therefore entitled to respect and very special treatment,’ says Isaiah Berlin. Brendan Gill remembers him: ‘The most conceited man who ever lived in our time in New York City. Vain to the point where it was a kind of natural wonder.’ His attraction to conspicuous wealth and for women resulted in his flashing gifts of ...

Untouched by Eliot

Denis Donoghue: Jon Stallworthy, 4 March 1999

Rounding the Horn: Collected Poems 
by Jon Stallworthy.
Carcanet, 247 pp., £14.95, September 1998, 1 85754 163 4
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... his own and sometimes borrowed from other people, friends, other poets, musicians, Nikos Kavadias, Isaiah Berlin. The poems are as carefully modulated as ever, but some of them go for rapidity at whatever risk to elegance. The best of them is ‘The Girl from Zlot,’ a modern narrative that retains the metres of ‘The Lady of Shalott’ – ‘Four grey ...

Joining the Gang

Nicholas Penny: Anthony Blunt, 29 November 2001

Anthony Blunt: His Lives 
by Miranda Carter.
Macmillan, 590 pp., £20, November 2001, 0 333 63350 4
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... on years of interviews with people who knew Blunt, many of whom – Dadie Rylands, Noel Annan, Isaiah Berlin, Francis Haskell, Michael Kitson, Ernst Gombrich – have since died. She also includes written evidence from the distant past: letters by Blunt’s schoolfriend Louis MacNeice, for instance, and most startlingly, the brisk character sketches ...

The Right Stuff

Alan Ryan, 24 November 1994

The Principle of Duty 
by David Selbourne.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 288 pp., £17.99, June 1994, 1 85619 474 4
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... us,’ says Selbourne, can we turn (in a brute world) for guidance, ethical or practical, to an Isaiah Berlin, a Dworkin, a Nozick, or a Rawls? Of course not. Would you hear of civic obligation from a scholar who, with exquisite care and ethical unconcern, could declare that ‘questions about what it is that citizens may claim as of right in a ...

She says nothing

Gavin Jacobson: Rohingyas, 1 December 2016

The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide 
by Azeem Ibrahim.
Hurst, 235 pp., £12.99, May 2016, 978 1 84904 623 7
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The Lady and the Generals: Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s Struggle for Freedom 
by Peter Popham.
Rider, 440 pp., £20, March 2016, 978 1 84604 371 0
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... Hungary, which is followed by references to Max Weber on politicians, Václav Havel on dissent, Isaiah Berlin on the perils of ‘spiritual freedom’, a verse from Rudyard Kipling’s The Fairies’ Siege and a passage from Anna Akhmatova, which Suu Kyi says gave her the strength to endure house arrest in solidarity with other political ...

After the Cold War

Eric Hobsbawm: Tony Judt, 26 April 2012

... of what Bismarck called ‘civilian bravery’ (Zivilcourage) – a quality notably lacking in Isaiah Berlin, as Tony himself noted, perhaps not without malice. Unlike the ex-Marxist scholiasts and intellocrates on the Left Bank who, as Auden said of poets, made ‘nothing happen’, Tony understood that a struggle with these new forces could make a ...

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